A critique of the descriptive power of the private interest
Accounting, Auditing &
Vol. 16 No. 2, 2003
# MCB UP Limited
Received June 2002
Accepted October 2002
A critique of the descriptive
power of the private interest
model of professional
An examination over time in the
Accounting Group, Dublin City University, Dublin, Ireland, and
Michael Smurfit Graduate School of Business, University College Dublin,
Keywords Discipline, Procedures, Accountancy profession, Ethics, Ireland
Abstract The primary aim of this study is to examine the descriptive power of the private
interest model of professional accounting ethics developed by Parker in 1994. This examination is
undertaken over an extended time period in the Irish context. It develops prior research which
concluded that the operation of the professional ethics machinery of the Institute of Chartered
Accountants in Ireland (ICAI) facilitated private interest motives on the part of the ICAI. The
paper draws on evidence regarding three critical events occurring outside the disciplinary process
of the ICAI but impacting directly on its operation as well as on perceptions from within the
process. The discourse surrounding the disciplinary process from 1994 to 2001 is examined using
media coverage and ICAI pronouncements. This is augmented with in-depth interviews held with
members of the ICAI disciplinary committees. The analysis provides evidence of pockets of support
for the descriptive power of Parker's model but also illustrates how the rigid and static nature of
the separate roles depicted within the model can often fail to capture the complexity of the various
changes occurring over the period examined. The study presents evidence which challenges the
proposed interrelationships between the various private interest roles depicted in the model and
makes some suggestions for the modification of the model, particularly the interrelationships
Professional ethics reveal a dual and complex role in that both the public and
private interests are pursued. While the public interest is readily declared, the
powerful private interest often remains submerged. Hence, according to Parker
(1994, p. 508) ``the role of ethics in protecting the private interest represents a
vital component of the accounting profession's ongoing commitment to
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The authors are extremely grateful for the helpful comments of Clare Balfe, Yves Gendron, Lee
Parker, Ian Thomson and two anonymous reviewers on earlier drafts of this paper. We would
also like to thank participants at the 2002 Critical Perspectives on Accounting conference in
New York and the 2002 Irish Accounting and Finance Association conference in Galway for
further helpful comments.
ensuring its own survival''. Parker (1994, p. 508) developed a private interest
model of professional accounting ethics which he envisaged would be
subsequently refined and modified with respect to any unique aspects of
particular national environments. This paper is responsive to this call given
that prior research concluded that the operation of the professional ethics
machinery of one professional body, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in
Ireland (ICAI) facilitates private interest motives on the part of the ICAI
(Canning and O'Dwyer, 2001). More specifically, the paper subjects elements of
the model to critical scrutiny given unique aspects of the Irish national
environment. This research comes at a time when the disciplinary
arrangements of professional accounting bodies in Ireland and the UK have
been the subject of governmental scrutiny and much adverse press comment
due to research and publicity alleging audit failures (Canning and O'Dwyer,
2001; Mitchell et al., 1994; Sikka and Willmott, 1995). The paper also represents
a direct response to Sikka's (2001a, p. 759) call for research to be undertaken
which ``scrutinize[s] the rhetoric and public interest claims of accountancy
Parker's aforementioned model is a comprehensive attempt to conceptualise
the private interest role of professional accounting ethics in certain western
contexts. Nevertheless, as with all models it is susceptible to examination and
may require modification given the impact of changes over time in specific
contexts. In this paper, we examine the descriptive power of the model in the
Irish context over time by undertaking two main tasks. First, we trace changes
in this context over an eight year period, from 1994 to 2001, directly impacting
on the professional ethics machinery of the ICAI. These changes are
sketched by examining elements of the discourse surrounding three key
external events impacting on the disciplinary process over this period. This
initial examination focuses on viewing the model given events occurring
``outside'' the disciplinary process but impacting directly on its operation and
calls into question aspects of the model's descriptive power. Second, we
augment this investigation with evidence drawn from in-depth interviews with
members of the ICAI disciplinary committees in order to gain an understanding
of the operation of the process from the ``inside''. These interviews further
enable us to scrutinise the model's descriptive power. We use this evidence to
make some suggestions for the modification of the model, particularly the
interrelationships depicted therein. The remainder of the paper is organised as
follows: the next section comprises a discussion of the conflict between the
public and private interests of the accounting profession and in particular the
role played by their ethical codes and disciplinary processes within this
conflict. The private interest model of professional accounting ethics developed
by Parker (1994) is then presented. This is followed by a description of the
methods adopted in the study. The findings emanating from our examination
of the three critical events over the eight year period, in conjunction with the
interview evidence, are then presented and deliberated on. These findings are
used to examine the descriptive power of Parker's model. The final section
presents a reformulation of Parker's model as well as summarising and
concluding the study.
Since their inception, most accounting bodies, like all established professions
have been self-regulatory (Lee, 1995). Functional perspectives on professions
identify self regulation as one of the privileges professions seek in exchange for
making their knowledge and skills available (Willmott, 1986). As part of the
self-regulatory process, some professions impose requirements on members as
to their behaviour through the establishment of ethical codes. These
requirements are enforced by way of disciplinary penalties.
If a profession, and in particular a self regulated one like the accounting
profession, wishes to achieve public recognition, then ethical codes together
with rigorous, accountable and transparent disciplinary processes which
enforce them, are essential (Maurice, 1996). Such disciplinary processes are
seen by Sikka (2001a, p. 755) as ``always political in that they enable
accountancy bodies (and their members) to advance their social claims for
colonization and control of jurisdictions, markets and niches''. Through readily
declaring the public interest, these ethical codes have been accused of
facilitating the profession's claims to act in the public interest (Parker, 1994)
thereby maintaining confidence in the profession among the public and the
state bodies (Cohen and Pant, 1991; Preston et al., 1995). They are seen to act as
a mechanism aimed at assuring the public and the state authorities that
members are competent, have integrity and that the profession intends to
maintain and enforce high standards (Ward et al., 1993). The credibility of the
profession and its self-regulatory regime are therefore dependent on the
enforcement of these codes being seen to be effective. By reporting selected
misconduct by members, the profession is shielded from having public scrutiny
of its ``broader professional values'' (Sikka, 2001a, p. 755). In other words, such
enforcement will thereby ensure the respect of the community and the
avoidance of the risk of losing the power and privilege of self regulation to the
Ethical codes and disciplinary processes: the conflict between public and private
Ethical codes are promoted by accounting bodies as serving a public interest
role in that they ``protect the economic interests of professional members'
clients and of third parties who place reliance on the pronouncements and
advice delivered by both the professional body and its members'' (Parker, 1994,
p. 509). However, recent research directly questions this proclaimed public
interest role of ethical codes and their disciplinary arrangements which are in
place to enforce them, in particular in the Irish, UK and Australian contexts
(Canning and O'Dwyer, 2001; Mitchell et al., 1994; Parker, 1994; Sikka, 2001b).
This research suggests that, in effect, these codes and arrangements are part of
a strategy involving the use of explicit professional signals in order to provide
a public interest face to what is essentially a process driven by private
(economic) interests (Lee, 1995).
Parker (1994) argues that ethical codes are often expressed in altruistic tones
and that while encouraging a sense of social responsibility on the part of the
professional member, they also assist in justifying professional self-interest.
This, he argues, is contradictory in that while ethical codes apparently seek to
fight inequality in society, at the same time they preserve inequality through
their defence of the professional privileges of wealth, status and power (Parker,
1994). Therefore, although the codes themselves readily declare the public
interest, the private interest remains submerged yet powerful, as the
demonstration of an effective and accountable disciplinary process may reduce
the chances of a profession losing its self-regulatory status. Their disciplinary
processes can also be recognised as part of the territorial battles which enable
professional bodies to ward off challengers and retain their ascendancy
(Dezalay, 1992), or, in other words, to view them as ``a proven mechanism for
diffusing criticisms, restoring the aura of independence and professionalism
and, in this way, protecting the profession's jurisdiction'' (Sikka and Willmott,
1995, p. 561).
As already pointed out, disciplinary arrangements exist so as to promote
adherence to ethical rules. Parker (1994) notes that while some have promoted
them as a powerful stimulus towards adherence to ethical rules, others view
distinct disciplinary processes and periodically observable disciplinary actions
enforced as mere symbolic actions created to illustrate the profession's
supposed ethical attitudes and assurances to outsiders. Parker (1994) describes
this latter viewpoint as a form of disciplinary symbolism which, he argues, is
aimed at projecting an image of the accounting professions' ethical attitudes,
commitment and behaviour. Sikka (2001a, p. 756) suggests that ``it is as though
the symbolism of disciplinary arrangements is considered to be sufficient to
secure public confidence''. Parker (1994) claims that the disciplinary symbol
lends support and reinforcement to the various dimensions of his private
interest model of professional accounting ethics which we now proceed to
Parker's private interest model of professional accounting ethics
Parker (1994) developed, as depicted in Figure 1, a private interest model of
professional ethics in an accounting context. The model conceptualises five
interrelated roles that ethics codes fulfil in serving the private interest of the
accounting profession. Professional insulation is identified as the primary
private interest role served by the ethics code whereby the profession is
insulated from inspection and assessment by outside parties through its
creation of ``professional mystique'' which according to Burns and Haga (1977,
p. 710) requires ``the work to be seen as esoteric, incomprehensible and
consisting of doing things that ordinary mortals cannot do''. Such mystique
hinders ``outsiders from scrutinising, understanding, or evaluating its [the
profession's] activities'' (Parker, 1994, p. 514). An example of this is the exercise
of restrictions on disciplinary cases disclosure (Parker, 1994). By creating this
``professional mystique'', the profession is allowed to operate with minimum
outside interference (interference minimisation) and is granted the freedom
to control its own activities and members (self-control). The relationship
depicted in the model is one where professional insulation is seen to facilitate
both interference minimisation and self-control and not vice versa (see Figure 1).
Interference minimisation and self-control are, however, seen to be interrelated
in that self-control can only exist where interference by outside parties in the
profession's activities is minimised and interference minimisation will only be
granted where the profession can demonstrate the adequate operation of self-
control. The ethics code's facilitation of the roles of professional insulation,
interference minimisation and self-control are deemed to be targeted towards
the maintenance of professional authority, which Parker defined in terms of the
profession's ability to obtain professional autonomy and exclusivity over its
technical knowledge base, and public trust and approbation with respect to its
claimed service ideals. The roles of professional insulation, interference
minimisation and self-control are therefore seen to be subordinate and
contributory to professional authority. There is therefore a presumption that
professional authority cannot be attained without the ethics codes successfully
fulfilling these three former roles. The underlying intent of professional
authority is its ability to preserve the profession's socio-economic status ``in
terms of social legitimacy and perceived social standing of the profession and
the level of economic rewards achievable by members'' (Parker, 1994, p. 515).
Equally, however, socio-economic status preservation is seen to reinforce the
public's perception of the authority of the profession. These latter two roles are
identified as mutually reinforcing and ``together serve as the focal private
interest roles'' of the ethics code of professional accounting bodies (Parker,
1994, p. 515).
According to Parker (1994, p. 515), the model ``clearly sits within a wider
social, political, institutional and economic context''. He claims that the
complexity of this context is such that the model does not attempt to
encapsulate it. While we accept this complexity, we examine how the model sits
Parker's private interest
model of professional
within a changing Irish context. Given the apparent static and absolute nature
of the five roles depicted within the model we illustrate how these roles, as
depicted, struggle to incorporate fully the impact of change in this context over
The evidence in this study was collected using two methods. Firstly, a content
analysis of media reporting and ICAI pronouncements regarding three events
with public interest implications relating to the ICAI disciplinary process was
undertaken. While these three events, which occurred between 1994 and 2001,
happened ``outside'' the disciplinary process, they impacted directly on its
operation. The analysis focuses on whether Parker's model adequately
describes the operation of the ICAI disciplinary process over time in response
to these external events. Secondly, semistructured in-depth personal interviews
with eight individuals who had direct involvement with the ICAI disciplinary
process were undertaken. The purpose of these interviews was to draw on
perceptions from ``inside'' the process to inform the analysis of the descriptive
power of Parker's model.
The content analysis (see Holsti, 1969; Krippendorff, 1980; Weber, 1985)
involved a comprehensive review of media and ICAI pronouncements
surrounding the three events examined: the Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry
into the Beef Processing Industry; the Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry
(Dunnes Payments); and the Parliamentary Inquiry into DIRT (Deposit Interest
Retention Tax) by the Dail (Irish Parliament) Public Accounts Committee
(PAC). A number of key words and categories were developed and agreed by
the researchers in order to focus this analysis. Articles were identified using on-
line search systems on newspaper, business magazine and academic journal
web sites as well as general searches on library web sites. Where on-line
search facilities did not fully cover the period being examined, we examined
individual newspapers' content in certain years (particularly, 1994, 1995 and
1996) for evidence of articles relating to these three events using microfiche
facilities. We also collected and examined information on the ICAI web site for
press releases and pronouncements in relation to the three events. The articles
were organised according to the event they related to and were examined in
detail in order to obtain some understanding of the core issues involved while,
at the same time, reflecting on the evolution of the issues and how the ICAI
response to them impacted on the descriptive power of Parker's model.
The interviews were guided by a small number of broad open-ended
questions and ranged from 45 to 90 minutes in duration. Interviews were
conducted with three ICAI members directly involved in the internal
administration of the disciplinary procedures and who also acted as members
of the various committees within the ICAI's disciplinary apparatus. The other
five interviews were conducted with lay members of the various committees.
Our core focus in these interviews was to examine perceptions of the openness
and transparency of the disciplinary process and its purported objective to act
in the public interest. We initially wrote to the ICAI for contact details of these
members as we wished to be open with the ICAI regarding the nature of our
research. Before releasing any contact details, the ICAI insisted on liaising with
these members in order to ascertain their willingness to be interviewed. We
were also asked to provide a detailed outline of our research objectives in which
we guaranteed the confidentiality of the interviewees given the apparent
sensitivity of our research. We acceded to this. When interviewees agreed to be
interviewed the ICAI provided us with contact details and we proceeded to
organise the interviews.
Conducting the interviews
Before commencing each interview, the nature of the research was again
outlined to each interviewee. It was stressed that it was perceptions we were
examining and that we were not looking for definitive, wholly defensible
answers to questions. We were extremely conscious not to lead interviewees in
any way and attempted to formulate an informed conversation (Patton, 1990;
Smith, 1972). It should be noted that while we made extensive attempts to
establish a relaxed atmosphere and establish a rapport, on two occasions we
got the impression that interviewees were somewhat concerned about
elaborating in too much depth about the inner nature of the ICAI disciplinary
process. However, all other interviewees were extremely forthcoming and
elaborative in their responses to questions.
All of the interviews were recorded by tape and subsequently transcribed
(Jones, 1985; McKinnon, 1988). The evidence analysis constituted a pervasive
process throughout the study's life. For example, throughout the interview
collection phase, ongoing analysis was aided by: extensive notes taken during
and immediately after interviews; recorded de-briefing sessions between the
two researchers immediately after each interview; tape-recorded reflections on
interviews recorded separately by both researchers as well as each interviewee
recording an inner dialogue reflecting on the interviews in separate journals
(see Baxter and Chua, 1998; Silverman, 2000). This, in effect, provided us with a
provisional running record of analysis and interpretation (see Miles and
Huberman, 1994; Tesch, 1990). Initial readings of early transcripts throughout
the interview collection phase also meant that in subsequent interviews certain
issues that appeared to be arising from these readings were probed more
deeply. In conducting the post interview analysis, the broad areas addressed in
the interview guide provided a framework/template from which a detailed
analysis of transcripts could proceed (Coffey and Atkinson, 1996; Lillis, 1999;
Miles, 1979). In total, the transcripts were read on five separate occasions by
both researchers after data collection had ceased. The first and second in-depth
reading of each transcript was undertaken with the tape of the interview
running in order to focus in on emphasis, mood, intonation and so on (Jones,
1985, p. 58). A number of key themes apparent in the evidence were then
developed after much discussion and debate. Mind (cognitive) maps were
prepared for each interview in order to support or, in some cases, challenge the
themes identified. These also helped in the search for any apparent
contradictions in the initial themes derived from the transcript evidence
(Huberman and Miles, 1994; Jones, 1985; Patton, 1990).
The detailed field notes, mind maps, tape-recorded reflections, memos,
interview summaries, and journals were then re-visited and analysed further.
This led to the formulation of an initial ``thick description'' (Denzin, 1994, p. 505)
of the interview findings using the interview guide questions as a loose
framework (see King, 1999, 1998). This description was then examined using
Parker's model as a lens in order to discover if the perceptions gained
supported the model's descriptive power. This was a crucial part of our
analysis and involved numerous sessions where we discussed and debated the
themes identified with regard to Parker's model. Finally, a narrative was
developed (Llewellyn, 2001) based on this analysis and this is primarily
presented in the second section of the findings detailed below.
Interrogating the descriptive power of Parker's individual private
This section reports on the examination of the impact of three critical events of
a public interest nature on the ICAI professional ethics machinery in the period
from 1994 to 2001. These impacts are explored by analysing elements of the
discourse surrounding these events using the content analysis of media
coverage and ICAI pronouncements in conjunction with the interview evidence
analysis. The examination focuses on whether Parker's model, particularly the
individual roles depicted therein, adequately describes the operation of the
ICAI disciplinary machinery over time in response to these three events. These
events were chosen as they represent the three major events of a ``public
interest'' nature which directly impacted on the ICAI's disciplinary apparatus
from 1994 onwards. The decision to commence in 1994 is due to the seminal
nature of the first event analysed which reached its conclusion in 1994 (Bougen
et al., 1999). This event represented the commencement of a strong societal
push for greater accountability and transparency in Irish public life which has
led to greater questioning of powerful, well established professions such as law,
medicine and accountancy in this context.
Privacy and secrecy ± supporting the descriptive power of Parker's model
Event 1 ± The Beef Tribunal. In 1994, revelations arising from the Report of the
Tribunal of Inquiry into the Beef Processing Industry (hereafter the Beef
Tribunal) (Beef Tribunal, 1994) into alleged tax evasion and other malpractices
in the Irish beef processing industry implicated members of the ICAI in the
setting up of illegal tax avoidance schemes (O'Toole, 1995). A tribunal of this
nature was an extremely rare occurrence in the Irish context at this time
(Bougen et al., 1999) and the findings prompted private disciplinary inquiries
by the ICAI given their public interest implications. Consequently, we
commence our examination of the descriptive power of Parker's model as
applied to the operation of the professional accounting ethics machinery of the
ICAI in 1994 around the time of the aforementioned report.
Despite the public furore regarding the Beef Tribunal findings (Bougen
et al., 1999) and the questions raised about some of its members, the ICAI
never reacted publicly to the report (Murdoch, 1997; 1998a,b). The absence of
a public response combined with the private nature of the disciplinary
hearings into possible breaches of its ethical code were representative of a
body focused on insulating the process from public view (professional
insulation) in order to minimise interference in its internal workings
(interference minimisation). For example, despite disciplining one member,
neither the name of that individual nor any indication of the outcome of the
internal inquiry was published (Murdoch, 1997). This successfully created a
sense of mystique around the process undertaken, further strengthening
professional insulation. In fact, the profession was so focused on professional
insulation in order to minimise interference in what it perceived as its internal
affairs and was so resistant to any external threats to its professional
authority that it actually stifled public debate on the issues involved. For
instance, it was widely reported that a former president of the ICAI
considered the issues raised to be so serious that he tried to raise the matter,
and other related issues, in a letter to the ICAI members' journal Accountancy
Ireland in 1996. The journal, however, refused to publish the letter lest it ``pre-
judge the disciplinary process that was underway'' given ``the sensitivities of
some of the issues'' (Murdoch, 1997; 1998a). This stance seems to have been
aimed at maintaining a perception that the body exercised sufficient self-
control over its members through procedures held behind closed doors. The
ICAI was, in effect, asserting its self-perceived professional authority by
ensuring that its ethics code (and the disciplinary process surrounding it)
successfully fulfilled the roles of professional insulation, interference
minimisation and self-control thereby operating in the ICAI's private interest.
Its concern for the socio-economic status preservation of its members was
illustrated by its refusal to publicly name the member disciplined or the
outcome of the process (Murdoch, 1998a). A number of interviewees were
highly critical of the ICAI's reluctance to publicly name the member
I never agreed with the reluctance of the Institute (ICAI) to publish names of members ... It
seemed there had been a customary practice not to do so unless somebody had done
something absolutely gross . . . [There was] a misguided sense of justice and I disagreed with
that . . . The process [wa]s flawed [and] I believe [publishing names] would have given more
confidence in the process to members [and the public] . . . [Even now] it is far too tentative in
the way it does publish things (M1).
We d[id] take people to task, but [under the old system] . . . nobody knew about the end result
. . . (M2).
In summary, at this time, it was apparent that the ICAI did not consider its
internal procedures to be the domain of the wider public despite the public
interest implications of the Beef Tribunal findings. From the outside looking in,
there was a sense that the ICAI considered itself to be immune from public
scrutiny by virtue of the professional authority it felt it possessed. Therefore,
the private operation of the ICAI disciplinary process combined with its lack of
a public response to findings regarding its members' actions which had a
public interest dimension suggests that Parker's model adequately describes
the operation of the ICAI professional accounting ethics machinery in its own
(private) interest at this time in this (Irish) context. The ICAI effectively
depended on its professional authority supported by professional insulation,
interference minimisation and perceptions of self-control in order to preserve
the socio-economic status of its members. However, the ensuing years brought
two further critical external threats to Parker's depiction of the individual roles
and their interrelationships within his model. The following sections examine
these threats and the ICAI response to them. In doing so, despite illustrating
some further support for the model's descriptive power, they overwhelmingly
indicate a number of threats to this power.
From privacy and secrecy to ostensible openness and transparency ± support for
and challenges to the descriptive power of Parker's model
Event 2 ± The McCracken Tribunal. In August 1997, the Report of the Tribunal
of Inquiry (Dunnes Payments) (hereafter the McCracken Tribunal) (McCracken,
1997) into, inter alia, claims of payments to politicians named a number of
prominent ICAI members thought to have been involved in the process. As
part of its disciplinary apparatus, the ICAI set up a committee to investigate
these members. By establishing this committee, the ICAI, under the
disciplinary rules existing at this time, effectively acknowledged the public
interest nature of this case. This investigation would have proceeded along
similar lines to the Beef Tribunal (i.e. in a completely private manner) but for
severe external pressure imposed on the ICAI, initially emanating through the
print media. For example, when the operation of this committee was threatened
by outside interference with the media calling for public hearings, the ICAI
adopted an extremely defensive stance and insisted that its investigation be
held in private, as was normally the case heretofore. The ICAI made this clear
in a public statement declaring that it ``wishes it to be known that its
procedures and affairs are private, and that the (investigation) committee has
not issued or authorised the issue of any comments or reports on its activities''
(Murdoch, 1998a). Effectively, the body was asserting its professional authority
and was unwilling to permit this to be undermined by allowing any
interference in its disciplinary procedures as it was well capable (in its own
view) of exerting self-control over its members. This statement further
illustrates the insular nature of the ICAI disciplinary proceedings at this time. It
also indicates the ICAI's desire to preserve professional insulation in order to
sustain interference minimisation and self-control over its members. This was
ultimately perceived as upholding its professional authority. Hence, the nature
of this response further indicates how Parker's model adequately reflects the
operation of the ICAI professional ethics machinery in its own (private) interest
at this time.
The unravelling of professional insulation
Given the public interest nature of the McCracken tribunal findings, the
defensive approach outlined above was widely criticised in the media for its
lack of openness and transparency and continued concerns were expressed as
to why the disciplinary hearings were not held in public (Murdoch, 1998a). The
well established mystique (professional insulation) surrounding the ICAI
disciplinary process was directly challenged as the ICAI's internal processes
became subject to greater assessment from outside parties. Consequently, the
strength of the foundation stone of Parker's model (professional insulation)
came under threat.
The power of professional insulation, interference minimisation and hence,
professional authority came under further direct external threat when the
Tanaiste, Mary Harney, publicly called for the ICAI to act in a more open
and transparent manner. She met with the ICAI and insisted that an observer
be allowed to sit in on their disciplinary hearings. The ICAI initially refused
categorically (Creaton, 1998), once more apparently fearing that this potential
erosion of professional insulation would lead to increased outside interference
in their internal affairs (reduced interference minimisation) and a consequent
threat to professional authority (in line with the indicated role relationships in
Parker's model). However, Harney persisted and issued a thinly veiled threat
indicating she would reconsider the delegated self-regulatory status of the ICAI
if they did not accede to her request. In a speech to a rival accountancy body,
Harney highlighted the huge privileges accountants enjoyed in society and
warned that, as a result of these, they must be prepared to give something back
to society and punish any wrongdoings among their members (Suiter, 1997).
This pressure eventually prevailed and the ICAI relented and allowed a
government observer to attend the ICAI hearings. The ICAI also appointed a
former Supreme Court judge, Mr Justice Blayney, to chair the inquiry and made
a commitment to making public the inquiry's final report (ICAI, 1997). This
represented further evidence of a shift in the operation of the ICAI disciplinary
procedures from a focus on mystique and insulation to a form of acceptance (in
public at least) of the need for more openness and transparency, thereby
eroding entrenched professional insulation.
Reducing professional insulation in order to maintain interference
In an apparent response to the concerns raised as a result of the above two
tribunals, the Council of the ICAI approved proposals to make its disciplinary
process more open and transparent in May 1998. Under the new proposals,
certain inquiries would now be held in public, the procedures for dealing with
complaints were to be speeded up, a greater representation of non-accountants
(lay members) was allowed on the disciplinary committees and sanctions
imposed by the process were to be publicised more extensively (ICAI, 1999a).
Furthermore, the level of fines was to be increased (ICAI, 1999a). These
changes represented an about-turn from the body who greeted the Beef
Tribunal findings with silence and a degree of annoyance that any external
body or person should question, or indeed intervene in, the private operation of
their disciplinary proceedings. Pierce Kent, the newly elected president
encapsulated this volte-face when stating ``we now recognise that open justice
is far more convincing than private discipline. The changes approved by the
Council will help reassure the public'' (O' Sullivan, 1998). A former president
hailed the new procedures as reflecting a new ``open institution'' challenging
perceptions of the body as a ``self protective organisation (given) the private
nature of current disciplinary hearings'' (The Irish Times, 1998). The proposed
changes were overwhelmingly supported by ICAI members.
The ICAI's gradual acceptance of an erosion in professional insulation
suggests a perception of reduced professional insulation facilitating the
maintenance of interference minimisation. For example, many interviewees
argued that by making their disciplinary procedures more transparent and open
in order to show that they were regulating themselves adequately (in effect,
reducing professional insulation) the ICAI minimised the possibility of outside
interference (maintaining interference minimisation). They perceived the nature
of the relationship between professional insulation and interference minimisation
as hindering rather than facilitating in nature. This tends to indicate, as depicted
in Figure 2, some form of perceived tension or negative relationship (represented
by (±)) between professional insulation and interference minimisation, a tension
Parker's model does not consider. Instead, Parker's model suggests the opposite,
that decreased professional insulation contributes to decreased interference
minimisation, i.e. an absence of tension or a positive relationship.
Lee (1995, p. 64) has argued that one of the results of the accountancy
profession's public response to criticism is the ``gradual exposure of the
accounting body of knowledge'' and the removal of ``some of the mystique of
accountancy'' which has ``made it easier for non-accountants to criticise
practice'' (through reduced professional insulation). Our analysis suggests that
some erosion of this mystique was embraced as it was ultimately perceived as
ensuring that external criticism eventually abated and failed to evolve into
interference in the ICAI's internal operation of its disciplinary process. It was
perceived that the nature of the external pressures ensured that interference
minimisation was not served by attempting to enhance the mystique
surrounding the ICAI (increased professional insulation). In essence,
professional insulation was traded off against interference minimisation.
In summary, our evidence suggests that at the commencement of its
investigation into the McCracken Tribunal findings the ICAI had hoped to
conduct its disciplinary procedures in a completely private manner, along
similar lines to its actions around the time of the Beef Tribunal. However, severe
external pressure for more open and transparent procedures was imposed on the
ICAI and led to the setting up of the Blayney Inquiry. The ICAI response to
these external pressures in conjunction with the interview evidence suggests a
perception of reduced professional insulation facilitating the maintenance of
interference minimisation. This tends to indicate some form of tension or
negative relationship between professional insulation and interference
minimisation in the Irish context, which Parker's model fails to identify. Instead,
Parker's model suggests a positive relationship, i.e. that decreased (increased)
professional insulation contributes to decreased (increased) interference
minimisation. We therefore argue that this analysis challenges the descriptive
power of elements of Parker's model in the Irish context at this time. We will
now consider the third external threat to the ICAI professional accounting ethics
machinery and its implications for the descriptive power of Parker's model.
Event 3: The DIRT Inquiry. The Tanaiste initially stated that she would
await the outcome of the Blayney Inquiry before making any decisions
regarding the delegated self-regulatory status of the accounting profession
(Keena, 1998). However, subsequent events overtook the Blayney Inquiry and
led to an earlier appraisal of the appropriateness of delegated self-regulation.
Revelations regarding the widespread non-payment of deposit interest
retention tax (DIRT) on bank deposit accounts led to the setting up of a
Parliamentary Inquiry into DIRT by the Dail (Irish Parliament) Public
Accounts Committee (PAC) (hereafter the DIRT Inquiry) which was televised
live. Auditors came in for severe criticism given their failure to uncover the
wide-scale use of bogus non-resident bank accounts and their failure to signal
potentially large DIRT liabilities which could have affected the solvency of
some banks in the 1980s and 1990s. Serious question marks over the
delegated self-regulatory status of the accounting profession and, in particular,
concerns as to the effectiveness of the disciplinary process of the ICAI, were
raised and publicly debated. This represented yet another intrusion into a
process that a mere six years earlier operated in a completely private manner
(thereby threatening professional insulation and interference minimisation).
Supporting the descriptive power of Parker's model
On foot of a recommendation by the PAC, a review group on auditing (RGA)
was formed to investigate, inter alia, the operation of delegated self-regulation
within the accounting profession. A key recommendation included therein was
the setting up of an independent statutory oversight board (IAASA) to
supervise the regulation of accountants by the various accountancy bodies
(RGA, 2000). It was to be independent of both the profession and government
with the power to impose sanctions where supervisory failures occurred,
including a e127,000 fine. The most controversial element of the suggested
amendments to the disciplinary process involved the right of the proposed
oversight board to intervene in misconduct cases (thereby severely reducing
interference minimisation). This potential role in ``operational'' issues was
objected to by the ICAI as not being consistent with a supervisory function and
they claimed that it would totally undermine the ability of the accountancy
bodies to effectively regulate members (thereby threatening self-control). David
Simpson, the then ICAI president, warned that the ICAI would not tolerate this
board undermining its own disciplinary work and questioned whether ``this
oversight board would have the expertise to effectively regulate the whole
accountancy profession in Ireland?'' (Creaton, 2000).
This initial ICAI response to the RGA report was surprisingly negative
given the apparent weight of public opinion behind the report (Harding, 2000).
The ICAI president spoke of the RGA proposals creating the ``toughest
regulatory regime in the world'' and potentially increasing business costs
(Canniffe, 2000; Smyth, 2000). The RGA chairman responded indignantly,
claiming that this ``sort of ponderous reaction by accountancy bodies is exactly
the kind of thing that has contributed to their problems. They should grab the
opportunity to tidy up their public image'' (Creaton, 2000). One interviewee was
adamant that this ``aggressive and defensive'' (M1) stance was indicative of a
body still out of touch with public opinion. The ICAI's aggressive resistance to
interference by the IAASA in their internal decision making processes is
reflective of the perceived private interest nature of their procedures as
reflected in Parker's model. For example, the formation of the IAASA indicates
an imposed erosion of professional insulation. From the preceding analysis, the
ICAI seemed well disposed to some erosion in professional insulation as it was
perceived that this might lead to less direct interference in their affairs
(maintaining interference minimisation). However, in this instance the
reduction in professional insulation was accompanied by further interference
(reduced interference minimisation) via the proposed interventionary role of the
IAASA in overriding disciplinary decisions. Hence, the robust public
displeasure expressed by the ICAI. As Parker's model indicates, in this instance
a reduction in professional insulation contributes to a reduction in interference
minimisation and a threat to the ICAI's self control over its members. The
erosion of these three private interest roles was viewed as diminishing the
professional authority of the ICAI given the IAASA's proposed powerful
The static nature of the private interest roles
While the ICAI's initial negative reaction to the role of the IAASA in
disciplinary affairs tends to reflect the interrelationships between the different
private interest roles depicted in Parker's model, it also provides evidence
questioning the apparent static nature of the roles depicted therein. Despite the
ICAI's willingness to allow some erosion of professional insulation (by
ostensibly making its disciplinary proceedings more open and transparent)
with the aim of maintaining interference minimisation, the RGA report
indicated that interference minimisation would be threatened regardless,
especially given the proposed intervention role of the oversight board.
Consequently, despite the ICAI reducing professional insulation, this failed to
maintain interference minimisation. While, as outlined above, this conforms to
the relationship proposed in the Parker model (reduced professional insulation
leading to reduced interference minimisation), it may be that the RGA
perceived the level of the reduction in professional insulation as being too
small, and therefore interference minimisation was further threatened. For
instance, while many interviewees agreed that the ICAI attempted to make its
disciplinary process more transparent and open (thereby reducing professional
insulation), they maintained that the extent of this reduction needed to increase
substantially. Otherwise, the ICAI would fail to achieve what they perceived as
its ultimate goal: the maintenance of delegated self-regulation, in essence, the
avoidance of outside interference (the maintenance or enhancement of
I actually think it [ICAI] needs to go further [reduce professional insulation further] because
otherwise the internal review will be taken from the Institute [ICAI] and there will be another
review system imposed by the state authorities [thereby reducing interference minimisation]
It is this notion, as depicted in Figure 3, of differing levels/degrees of
professional insulation, interference minimisation, self control, professional
authority and socio-economic status preservation that Parker's model does not
explicitly consider. In fact, the ICAI eventually calmed its resistance to the
RGA's proposals, thereby accepting some erosion of interference minimisation.
Their President ultimately indicated that the profession was fully aware of the
need to restore public confidence (by accepting a lower level of interference
minimisation) in order to reaffirm its professional authority.
Varying levels of
To summarise, this section disputes the descriptive power of certain aspects of
the Parker model by examining three key events with public interest
implications within an eight-year time period in the Irish context. The model
adequately describes the operation of the ICAI disciplinary procedures in its own
private interest in 1994 (around the time of the Beef Tribunal findings). Our
analysis of the consequences of two further critical events impacting on these
procedures also indicates some support for the model. However, it also presents
evidence indicating that there are occasions where the model is unable to
encapsulate adequately the ICAI response to these events in its own private
interest. First, the failure of the model to consider explicitly varying levels of
professional insulation, interference minimisation etc. hinders its descriptive
power. Second, aspects of the interrelationships between the various roles within
the model (namely, professional insulation and interference minimisation) are
queried. For example, the findings of the McCracken Tribunal and the DIRT
Inquiry (DIRT, 2001) led to reduced professional insulation which was aimed at
maintaining (or even increasing) interference minimisation. If we accept that
interference minimisation contributes to professional authority, self-control and
(indirectly) to socio-economic status preservation (as depicted in Parker's model),
this reduction in professional insulation was also focused on maintaining or
increasing these three other private interest roles. Our examination suggests,
however, that there may on occasion be some tension between the foundation
role of professional insulation and the various other roles in the model (in
particular, interference minimisation). We explore this apparent tension further,
as well as identifying an additional tension, in the forthcoming section which
draws primarily on our analysis of the interview evidence. In doing so, we outline
two more key threats to the descriptive power of Parker's model.
Perceptions of the ICAI professional accounting ethics machinery
Exploring further challenges to the descriptive power of Parker's model
The previous section focused primarily on viewing the model's descriptive
power given events occurring outside the disciplinary process but impacting
directly on its operation. This section draws on perceptions from within the
process to further inform the analysis. Here, we subject the descriptive power of
the model to additional scrutiny by examining the interrelationships between
the various roles in greater depth using the evidence gained from the in-depth
interviews with participants involved in the disciplinary process. However,
while this section draws primarily on our interview evidence, our analysis is
also informed by the contextual issues examined above.
In developing his model, Parker identifies the potential of the individual
roles to facilitate or contribute to one another but ignores the possibility of roles
hindering or threatening one another. We have already identified one instance
in which a threatening relationship, and therefore a tension between roles,
could arise: the relationship between professional insulation and interference
minimisation. A second role relationship we consider is that between self-
control and interference minimisation. Parker's model indicates these roles
facilitate or contribute to one another but our forthcoming evidence suggests a
potentially threatening (negative) relationship. Further, we also argue that the
relationship between professional insulation and professional authority may
sometimes be a reciprocal contributory relationship (i.e. both contribute to each
other) whereas Parker's model indicates that it is professional insulation which
contributes to professional authority and not vice versa.
The relationship between self-control and interference minimisation
In Parker's model, the relationship between self-control and interference
minimisation is one of interdependency in that increased interference
minimisation facilitates increased self-control and vice versa. Our examination
of the ICAI response to external events in conjunction with the interview
evidence suggests that self-control, particularly of larger, more powerful
members, has come under threat. Furthermore, the evidence also indicates that
in order to improve self-control, the ICAI must allow a reduction in interference
minimisation, something it would appear, from our analysis above, reluctant to
do. Consequently, contrary to the proposed existence of a reciprocal
contributory relationship between self-control and interference minimisation,
our analysis suggests that a tension exists in that an increase in self-control
may require a reduction in interference minimisation. This evidence, as
illustrated below, would therefore suggest that the relationship between these
two roles is more complex than depicted within Parker's model.
A perceived absence of self-control
A number of interviewees drew a distinction between the control the ICAI
exerted over its smaller and its larger ``well financed members'' (M1). They
believed that the ICAI was unable to control the latter as they possessed the
power and resources to forestall disciplinary proceedings:
. . . say we looked at the people who have had sanctions against them for a breach of the
disciplinary process, it was often members in a smaller firm where maybe the bigger fish
were able to forestall the action or arising out of their allegations against them there may
have been some other legal processes going on (M1).
What we are dealing with mainly is the small guys . . . I ask myself what's happening in the
rest of the accountancy world . . . [and] . . . I want to get round to probing it to satisfy myself
. . . there might be a motivation behind some [Big 5] practices to delay the outcome about a
finding for as long as possible [against which the ICAI is helpless] so if a particular case
against a person in a firm is found to be adverse and brought shame to the profession, they
can say after 5 to 6 years, this was outrageous, this was terrible, the person has now left the
firm and we have nothing to do with them (M2).
Prior research has shown that such delaying tactics by the bigger firms are not
unusual (Arnold and Sikka, 2001; Mitchell et al., 2000; Sikka, 2001a). Referring
to the Blayney Inquiry one interviewee claimed it gave the ``appearance of
having power rather than `real' power'' and referred to the whole process of
delegated self-regulation as ``only a regulatory arrangement by consent'' (M1).
He claimed that ``if you are a member of the Institute (ICAI) willing to submit
yourself to those powers that's fine, but if you're saying `look, to hell with you,
your powers are limited and I'm not willing to do so' [then] it's very difficult for
the Institute (ICAI) to withstand that'' (M1).
Given that the larger firms were ``big contributors to the ICAI payroll'' (L5),
another interviewee questioned whether ``the ICAI [was] the proper body to
investigate serious, almost criminal actions'' by these firms. He felt strongly
that ``this is an area where the ICAI might be conflicted'' (L5). This concern was
shared by other interviewees:
. . . there is a perception among our members that the [small] guy would be beaten around a
room and blindfolded, [and that] the big boys control the Institute [ICAI] and won't have their
reputations damaged . . . [However], I think we are going to see some changes very soon (M2).
We had the Beef Tribunal which produced serious questions about major accountancy firms
. . . you know there was fear and horror at the extent of this and when you consider one or two
of the firms that were involved, they were major accounting firms . . . then there was almost a
balance of power in these type of things . . . with so few firms controlling so many chartered
accountants the size of the firm might well exceed the resources of the ICAI and things like
that . . . so I could see it as a problem and it was a problem for them (L3).
This provides evidence of an apparent absence of self-control in that the ICAI is
perceived as being unable to control some of its larger members because such
members are perceived as having the power and resources to resort to legalistic
measures to obstruct disciplinary proceedings. Previous studies have also
raised considerable doubts as to the ability of accounting bodies to effectively
regulate major firms (Cousins et al., 2000; Mitchell et al., 1994; Sikka and
Addressing the absence of self-control ± reducing interference minimisation
The interview evidence and ICAI pronouncements (ICAI, 2000a; ICAI, 2000b)
suggest that in order to address the absence of perceived self-control, the ICAI
may require some form of statutory backing for its disciplinary process
(thereby reducing interference minimisation):
One of our biggest shortcomings was the inability or the lack of power to compel witnesses to
attend and it was always easy for, say, one of the larger firms . . . to put up all kinds of legal
objections and stalling tactics which could go on for years (M1).
We didn't have the clout, or the authority, the powers of the Institute [ICAI] were much more
In fact, despite evidence of its core focus on the maintenance of interference
minimisation outlined earlier, one interviewee claimed that the ICAI was open
to some reduction in interference minimisation in order to improve self-control.
He bemoaned the ICAI's lack of ``appropriate'' powers and indicated that, as far
as he was aware, ``these issues (surrounding the provision of appropriate
powers) have been brought to Mary Harney (the Tanaiste) and she has said she
is sympathetic to our cause . . . so there are means afoot to try and give us
powers to compel witnesses and discover documents'' (M2). In other words, in
order to protect the operation of its disciplinary process in the private interest
of its members, it was contended that the ICAI had encouraged some state
interference (some reduction in interference minimisation).
The analysis above suggests that focusing on maintaining or enhancing
interference minimisation may actually work against self-control. In essence,
there is a perceived lack of control over larger members which the ICAI has
attempted to address by, on occasion, seeking reduced interference
minimisation through increased state intervention in the form of statutory
backing for its disciplinary process. Hence, it would seem that, on occasion, the
ICAI is perceived as being open to its disciplinary process sustaining some loss
in interference minimisation in order to improve self-control. This indicates, as
shown in Figure 4, the existence of a tension or negative relationship between
these two private interest roles (represented by (±)).
The implications for Parker's model are that the relationship between self-
control and interference minimisation may sometimes be competitive as
opposed to contributory. This apparent willingness to allow some reduction in
interference minimisation (in order to enhance self-control) contrasts with
evidence presented earlier suggesting a core focus on maintaining interference
minimisation by the ICAI. We cannot ascertain how committed the ICAI
actually are to any reduction in interference minimisation necessary to improve
self-control, but what we can conclude is that there is a clear perception that a
reduction in interference minimisation is required to improve self-control.
Whether the ICAI is totally committed to this reduction is debatable given our
earlier evidence suggesting a core focus on maintaining or enhancing
Reciprocal contributory relationships (RCR)
In his model Parker identifies two relationships where reciprocal facilitation
occurs (interference minimisation and self-control; professional authority and
socio-economic status preservation). While the previous discussion questions
the operation of a reciprocal contributory relationship between self-control and
interference minimisation in the Irish context, evidence presented here would
suggest one further reciprocal contributory relationship, between professional
authority and professional insulation.
While we accept that professional insulation facilitates professional authority
given that professional authority may not exist without professional
insulation, we contend that once some level of professional authority is
established, this, in itself, can contribute to further or enhanced professional
insulation. Hence, we suggest a reciprocal contributory relationship between
professional authority and professional insulation. We illustrate this using
perceptions of the complainants' role in the disciplinary process. These
perceptions suggest that once professional authority is established, this, in
itself, can further enhance mystique (and therefore professional insulation)
thereby discouraging outside (or lay person) scrutiny of the disciplinary
process. Consequently, while professional insulation may facilitate
professional authority, once established, professional authority also facilitates
RCR: Professional authority and its facilitation of professional insulation
The role that the complainant plays in the disciplinary process could be seen as
the profession's strategy of creating a ``mystique'' and thereby insulating itself
further from outside scrutiny (professional insulation). For instance, many
interviewees contended that making it difficult for complainants to initiate a
complaint, discouraging them from making oral representations and not
promoting the fact that there is a process in existence in the first place all serve
to encourage a sense of ``professional mystique'':
You've got to write out a formal complaint . . . quoting all the Bylaws for a particular
situation . . . so for the average person that is difficult (L2).
It would not be a customer friendly room to bring someone into [disciplinary hearing room at
ICAI headquarters]. A lot of people could become a bit over-awed by their presence there and
I think they would tend to get a bit emotional and it would be difficult to extract fact from
However, it could be argued that the more authority the profession commands
(greater professional authority) (be it from professional insulation, interference
minimisation, self-control or socio-economic status preservation) the more
likely it is that outside scrutiny will be minimised by, for example, deterring
potential complainants, thereby enhancing professional insulation. One
interviewee clearly saw the current promotion of the disciplinary system and
how it operates from the potential complainant's perspective as enhancing the
sense of mystique surrounding the process. For example, the professional
authority afforded to the profession is used to facilitate the operation of a
system which, instead of encouraging complainants and facilitating them, acts
to shroud the process. This creates a sense of mystique around the process
which could not have been established unless professional authority already
I think the Institute [ICAI] has had a culture of being seen not to be very proactive and being
seen not to be particularly helpful to complainants [although] I think that might be more of a
perception than a reality (M1).
The average person that deals with a firm of accountants would not know that there is a
process available through the Institute [ICAI] for them to remedy some mistake that may be
made against them (L1).
I think that the complainant should have somebody articulate the thing ... A lot of people
would have complaints and they wouldn't be in a position to articulate them and they might
get put off because they couldn't do that (L3).
There is much evidence here of a perception of a system that, while existing, by
virtue of how it operates it tends to exclude potential complainants through a
lack of information or an inability to deter perceptions of an austere self
protective establishment body.
You've still got this image of trying to take on the establishment . . . and that there [are]
protection systems around them, that they control the systems and that trying to knock this
down is like trying to shift the walls of Jericho, you're just not going to do this (L1).
One interviewee also spoke of a sense of ``tired resignation among the public
regarding how professions (not just the ICAI) were regulated'' (L5) which he felt
further deterred complainants. In summary, while professional insulation is
deemed to facilitate professional authority in Parker's model (but not vice
versa), when considering the role of the complainant in the disciplinary process,
many interviewees viewed established professional authority as actually
contributing to professional insulation thereby suggesting a reciprocal
facilitation between professional insulation and professional authority.
Discussion and conclusions
The primary aim of this study was to examine the descriptive power of the
private interest model of professional accounting ethics developed by Parker
(1994) over a certain time period in the Irish context. The paper draws on
evidence regarding three critical events occurring outside the disciplinary
process but impacting directly on its operation and on perceptions from within
the process. This encompassed examining the discourse surrounding the
disciplinary process from 1994 to 2001 using media coverage and ICAI
pronouncements and augmenting this examination with in-depth interviews
held with members of the ICAI disciplinary committees. This investigation
therefore allowed us to scrutinise the model's descriptive power. The paper is
responsive to Parker's call for research to attempt to modify and refine his
model with respect to unique aspects of particular national environments. It
also extends prior research which concluded that the operation of the
professional ethics machinery of the ICAI facilitated private interest motives on
the part of the ICAI (Canning and O'Dwyer, 2001). Furthermore, the paper
represents a direct response to Sikka's (2001a, p. 759) call for the instigation of
research which ``scrutinize[s] the rhetoric and public interest claims of
accountancy bodies'' and comes at a time when the disciplinary arrangements
of professional accounting bodies in Ireland and the UK have been the subject
of governmental scrutiny and much adverse press comment due to research
and publicity alleging audit failures (Canning and O'Dwyer, 2001; Sikka and
Willmott, 1995; Mitchell et al., 1994).
Our analysis provides evidence of some support for the descriptive power of
the Parker model in the Irish context. However, the investigation of subsequent
changes in this context over the eight year period in conjunction with the
interview evidence also serves to highlight a number of challenges to this
descriptive power. These revolve primarily around the absence of any
depiction of differing levels/degrees of professional insulation, interference
minimisation, etc. within the model and the proposed interrelationships
between the individual roles within the model. Therefore, we propose, in
Figure 5, a reconceptualisation of the model, to take into account this evidence.
Around the time of the Beef Tribunal, the ICAI did not consider its internal
procedures to be the domain of the wider public despite the public interest
implications of the findings. The ICAI effectively depended on its established
professional authority supported by professional insulation, interference
minimisation and self-control in order to ensure the socio-economic status of its
members thereby suggesting that Parker's model adequately reflected the
operation of the ICAI professional ethics machinery at this point in time. In
Figure 5 below, we illustrate the initial positive/contributory relationship
between the separate private interest roles, as initially depicted by Parker,
using (+) beside the relevant arrow linking roles to one another.
However, two further critical events, which occurred in the ensuing years,
challenged elements of the descriptive power of Parker's model. These events
reflected the inability of his model to encapsulate changes in the Irish context
over time which our model, as reflected in Figure 5, attempts to redress. Firstly,
the evidence presented challenged the Parker model by illustrating the rigid
and static nature of the separate roles depicted within the model. For instance,
the discourse surrounding the McCracken Tribunal and DIRT Inquiry
demonstrated that the Parker model appears to ignore the level/degree of
interference (degrees of interference minimisation) that may need to be allowed
in certain contexts as it fails to consider different levels of professional
insulation and interference minimisation. Because all of the roles are considered
in absolute terms, Parker's model appears overly static and therefore cannot
encapsulate potential trade-offs between individual roles or any degree of
latitude within each separate role. We have attempted to incorporate levels/
Private interest model of
ethics in Ireland
degrees of the various private interest roles in our model using multiple rather
than single depictions of these roles.
A further challenge to Parker's model relates to the interrelationships
between the various private interest roles depicted therein. Three such
relationships (professional insulation and interference minimisation;
interference minimisation and self-control; and professional insulation and
professional authority) as depicted within Parker's model were challenged by
our evidence. Firstly, Parker identifies the relationship between professional
insulation and interference minimisation as being one of facilitation, whereas
our evidence suggests an apparent tension in this relationship. For example,
the ICAI response to the McCracken Tribunal and DIRT Inquiry in conjunction
with the interview evidence suggest that reduced professional insulation is
perceived as facilitating the maintenance of interference minimisation.
Consequently, this suggests that increased professional insulation may not, in
this specific context at least, contribute to interference minimisation. This tends
to indicate the need for the recognition, as in Figure 5, of some form of tension
(denoted (±)) between professional insulation and interference minimisation in
Parker's model. Secondly, while Parker considers the relationship between
interference minimisation and self-control as contributory, our evidence
suggests that interference minimisation may actually work against self-control.
In essence, there is a perceived lack of control over larger ICAI members which,
according to the interviewees, the ICAI needs to address by allowing a
reduction in interference minimisation through increased state intervention in
the form of statutory backing for its disciplinary process. By focusing
primarily on maintaining interference minimisation in its disciplinary process,
the ICAI appears to have traded-off self-control over its members. Hence, it
would seem that the ICAI may recognise the need to sustain some loss in
interference minimisation in order to improve self-control and reduce the
possibility of greater interference (further reduced interference minimisation).
This suggests the need for Parker's model to recognise a tension (denoted (-))
between these two private interest roles as illustrated in Figure 5.
The third interrelationship challenged relates to professional insulation
and professional authority. While we accept that professional insulation
facilitates professional authority given that professional authority may not
exist without professional insulation, our evidence suggests that once some
level of professional authority is established, this in itself can contribute to
further or enhanced professional insulation. Support for this emanates from an
analysis of interviewee perspectives regarding the role of complainant's within
the ICAI disciplinary process. Hence, using this evidence we suggest, as
reflected by the additional arrow emanating from professional authority to
professional insulation in Figure 5, a reciprocal contributory relationship
between professional authority and professional insulation.
We fully accept that expecting Parker's model to encapsulate all possible
situations pertaining to the professional ethics machinery of different
accountancy bodies in different contexts is both unrealistic and foolhardy.
However, our examination has shown that in one context over a certain time
period, given prior evidence that the professional accounting ethics machinery
studied works in the private interest (Canning and O' Dwyer, 2001), the model
needs to evolve somewhat to encapsulate changing circumstances. Therefore,
our suggested modifications to Parker's model may more accurately describe
the operation of the ICAI's professional accounting ethics machinery in the
private interest. We suggest that future research should consider the model's
descriptive power in other contexts over time in order to provide some
comparison with the evidence presented here.
1. As observed by one of the anonymous reviewers, we should point out that the analysis is
only loosely over time: the 1994 to 2001 time period is, to quote the reviewer, merely ``a
grain of sand in the continuum of time''.
2. This perspective views professions as ``integrated communities whose members undertake
highly skilled tasks that are crucial for the integration and smooth operation of society''
(Willmott, 1986, p. 557). Within this perspective, distinguishing characteristics of a
professional such as the custody of specific knowledge, independence, altruism and self
discipline are highlighted but remain largely unquestioned (Willmott, 1986).
3. Parker (1994) notes that these third parties may encompass corporate shareholders (or
intending shareholders), borrowers and lenders, regulators, government, social interest
groups, or any other members of the public.
4. Interference primarily from the Government and its agencies.
5. As well as academic papers, the search covered newspapers and periodicals such as, The
Irish Times, The Irish Independent, The Examiner, The Sunday Business Post, The
Financial Times, Business and Finance, Accountancy Ireland and Accountancy Age.
6. The five broad areas that our questions spanned included perceptions as to: the
transparency of the disciplinary process and reporting mechanisms; the difficulties/
pressures imposed on the disciplinary procedures; the fairness and equity of the
punishments meted; the accountability to complainants in the public interest; and the
impact of recent amendments to the procedures.
7. Lay members are invited on to these committees in order to provide some non-accountant
(quasi-independent) influence to the disciplinary proceedings.
8. This was despite the letter having been vetted by senior legal counsel.
9. M1 to M3 refers to interviewees directly involved in the internal administration of the ICAI
disciplinary procedures and who also sat on various disciplinary committees. L1 to L5
refers to the five lay members of the various committees interviewed.
10. The ICAI members mentioned in the report included former Taoiseach (Prime Minister)
Charles Haughey; Dunnes Stores (a major privately held retail chain) trustee, Noel Fox, and
Dublin accountancy firms, Oliver Freaney and Co. and Deloitte and Touche as joint
auditors of Dunnes Stores.
11. Tanaiste is a Gaelic term meaning ``deputy Prime Minister'' in the English language.
12. While the inquiry was set up in September 1997, it is still ongoing due to a combination of
further tribunals that may impact on its findings and delaying tactics adopted by some of
the parties being investigated (Keena, 1999). It also faced difficulties gaining access to
certain files because of concerns in various accountancy firms about client confidentiality.
An interim report in April 1999 revealed that some parties had been informed that a prima
facie case had been established by the committee. While the report was completed in June
2000, it is currently (June 2002) being appealed and ICAI regulations as well as legal advice
received by the ICAI prohibit publication of the report until the appeals have been
determined or abandoned.
13. These changes were implemented in December 1999.
14. A postal ballot of members resulted in 91.24 per cent supporting the changes (ICAI, 1999b).
15. As part of its response to the PAC findings the ICAI appointed a special investigator,
Professor Ian Percy to conduct internal inquiries. Such an inquiry is in keeping with the
new procedures introduced in December 1999. According to the ICAI, this new approach
allows complex complaints and cases involving the public interest to be investigated more
efficiently and in a very focused manner. The ``Percy Report'' was issued in December 2001
and found no evidence of any wrongdoing on the part of the auditing firms involved
16. In April 2001, the Tanaiste established the body, entitled The Irish Auditing and
Accounting Supervisory Authority (IAASA), on an interim basis pending new legislation.
17. While only three levels are reflected in Figure 3, we are trying to illustrate the notion of
levels here as opposed to being restricted to a particular number.
18. This is evidenced in the stalling process adopted by many of those members being
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